[Marxism] An Italian’s Brutal Death in Egypt Chills Relations
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Fri Feb 5 14:08:24 MST 2016
NY Times, Feb. 5 2016
An Italian’s Brutal Death in Egypt Chills Relations
By DECLAN WALSH
CAIRO — Four months ago, Giulio Regeni, an Italian doctoral candidate at
Cambridge University, arrived in Cairo to improve his Arabic and conduct
research among the city’s street vendors.
Now Mr. Regeni, 28, is dead. His body was discovered, half-naked and
“with evident signs of torture,” in a ditch on the city limits,
prompting an angry reaction on Thursday from Italian officials who
seemed deeply skeptical that Egypt would be able, or willing, to find
those who killed him.
In Rome, Italian officials summoned Egypt’s ambassador and pressed him
to allow a joint investigation into the killing. In Cairo, a
government-led Italian trade delegation cut short its stay and went home.
“We want the truth to come out, every last bit of it,” said the Italian
foreign affairs minister, Paolo Gentiloni, in an interview with the
national broadcaster RAI. “We owe that much to a family that has been
stricken in an irreparable way and, at the very least, has the right to
know the truth.”
The complication, for Egypt and Italy, though largely unspoken, was that
Mr. Regeni did not just bear the telltale signs of torture, but that the
cigarette burns and head wounds were a signature form of abuse
frequently associated with the Egyptian security forces. There was no
proof Mr. Regeni had even been in police custody, and it would be out of
character for the authorities to abuse a Westerner. But worries about
the impunity of the Egyptian security forces have been growing of late,
and an initial declaration by officials that Mr. Regeni had died in a
car accident also raised suspicions.
Mr. Regini vanished on Jan. 25 when, on the fifth anniversary of the
uprising that ultimately ousted President Hosni Mubarak, he left his
apartment for a meeting with a friend at a downtown cafe. It was a day
of considerable tension in Cairo: thousands of police officers were
scattered across the city to halt any antigovernment protest after a
weekslong crackdown that saw the police arrest activists, shutter arts
spaces and search apartments.
Friends said that Mr. Regeni was last seen walking toward his local
metro station at about 7 p.m. The search to find him ramped up in recent
days amid Internet appeals for information and as his parents flew to
Cairo, but ended on Wednesday when his body was found on the desert
highway leading to Alexandria.
Ahmed Nagy, the Egyptian prosecutor in charge of the investigation, said
Mr. Regeni was naked from the waist down and with “evident signs of
torture all over.” The wounds, which in addition to apparent cigarette
burns included small stab marks, were “concentrated around the face and
body,” Mr. Nagy said.
An autopsy completed on Thursday afternoon indicated that he had died
from “internal bleeding to the brain as a result of a beating to the head.”
Mr. Nagy cautioned, however, that his findings were preliminary and that
the forensic authorities had yet to issue a final report.
Suspicions of an official hand in Mr. Regeni’s death stem from the
disappearance into custody of hundreds of Egyptians, often without
formal arrest, over the past year, human rights groups say.
Still, it would be rare for a foreigner to disappear in such a manner.
And Mr. Regeni, described by friends as an open-spirited and culturally
dexterous student, was conducting research that appeared to be of little
threat to jittery authorities.
Although Mr. Regeni’s chosen subject, informal labor organization, can
be politically sensitive in Egypt, he had been cautious in his work,
said Rabab el-Mahdi, his supervisor at the American University in Cairo.
“He steered clear of anything that was politicized,” she said.
Friends said they could not rule out the possibility that his death was
the result of a random criminal act, a botched kidnapping or Islamist
militancy, though they acknowledged having no special insight into the
investigation. In August, a militant group associated with the Islamic
State beheaded a Croatian man, Tomislav Salopek, after snatching him on
the outskirts of Cairo.
Still, there was concern that the authorities would not conduct a
“What we know is that it is an accident,” Alaa Azmi, the deputy head of
criminal investigations in Cairo’s twin province of Giza, told The
Associated Press before the autopsy had been completed.
Reflexive denials of foul play are common among Egyptian officials,
especially in matters that could embarrass the state. Investigations
into the deaths of other foreigners in recent months, including eight
Mexican tourists who were killed by accident by the security forces in
the Western Desert, have been criticized for a lack of transparency.
The murky circumstances of Mr. Regeni’s death caused a visible chill in
Egypt’s relations with Italy, which was the first Western country to
welcome Mr. Sisi after the ouster of the democratically elected
president, Mohamed Morsi, in 2013. On Wednesday, reports that Mr.
Regeni’s body had been found prompted an Italian trade delegation, led
by the economic development minister, Federica Guidi, to cut short a
visit to Cairo. Earlier, Ms. Guida had urged Mr. Sisi to intervene
personally in the case, Italian media outlets reported.
On Thursday, the Italian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it
expected “maximum collaboration at all levels in light of the
exceptional gravity of what happened.”
Italy said it was asking Egypt to “immediately start a joint
investigation with the participation of Italian experts.”
After a meeting with Mr. Gentiloni in London, Egypt’s foreign minister,
Sameh Shoukry, said only that the two countries had agreed to increase
cooperation “to determine the cause of the death.”
On her Facebook page, the Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif said there was
“something so extra sad about a person who comes to Egypt in good faith
to live and study and gets caught in this nightmare, this obtuse and
brutal thuggery that’s the undertone of our lives here today.”
Merna Thomas contributed reporting from Cairo, and Gaia Pianigiani from
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